Night on Froggy Hill

(Click on the images for a larger view.)

On the afternoon and evening of 2/13/10, we had our first public hike at this site, a working cattle ranch with 27 ponds, part of La Honda Creek OSP. This property is not yet open, so it was a treat for all to see it. KG, KP and I arrived around 3:30. Our scheduled hike time was 4:00-8:30. We had a total of nine participants of 15/19 on the final reservation list, with two arriving at 4:30, just after we had started out. We had plenty of time, given that we had previously decided to avoid hiking the berms because of the gooey mud, which was worse there.

We were lucky and had good weather. The sun was out, and the La Honda temperature was 64F, dropping to about 57 by the time we finished, with high fog coming in.

After unlocking and relocking the gate, we pointed out the Clos de la Tech Winery caves visible to the east, and Ray’s Peak to the west. We stopped to allow a possible mother cow and calf, separated by the road, to reunite.
The roadside stream held some small, black invertebrates. CR got one on her finger, and it curled up. They were too small to tell what they were with the naked eye, a bit smaller than mouse droppings.

It was pretty quiet bird-wise until we neared the ranch house and pond. We could hear Red-winged Blackbirds then, and found Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, and American Coots on the lower pond. An unidentified light-colored raptor flew over, and an American Kestrel perched atop a conifer. A mother cow and calf had staked out an area near the pond in front of us, so we headed over to the upper pond to allow them to move when they were ready.

Lower pond 15 minutes before sunset

The ground was not as wet away from the ponds as it was on 1/24. Near the ponds, the hoofprint-pocked mud remained. In a couple of places, I almost lost my rubber boots (I was glad that I decided to wear those instead of my hiking boots).

There were some small bones scattered on the ground. One was a very small hoof. There was some white hair remaining just above the pointed hoof, and it appeared to have only one toe.

The little hoof; the toe part was about 2

2-3 Western Pond Turtles (Southern Pacific Pond Turtle), our native turtle, were visible at the edge of the island in the upper pond. They decided they didn’t like being looked at and slid into the water. California Newts occasionally  glanced the surface of the water, causing ripples. A couple of turtle heads stuck out of the water on the near side. Aside from more Canvasbacks and Ruddy Ducks, some Ring-necked Ducks floated on the upper pond.

Back at the lower pond after the mother and calf had left, we found a few newts as they swam close to the surface. A white, oblong egg floated near the edge. It was about 1.25″ inches long, and appeared to have a crack. It wasn’t leathery, but felt hard. CR guessed it was a rejected turtle egg. After we looked at it, we returned it to where we’d found it.

The floating egg

It was close to sunset, so we found a relatively dry area between the ponds to sit and have dinner. As dusk fell, high fog came in. A few distant Great Horned Owls hooted. The cattle were concentrated on the south side of the lower pond, and made themselves known. Their low calls easily traveled over the water surface. As we sat and talked about the local amphibians,
some bats fluttered over the near side of the pond, ducks left the upper pond with audible wingbeats, and a treefrog or two gave land calls.

KG and I heard some soft chittering coming from above and behind us, which we attributed to Big Brown Bats. Some bats produce vocalizations audible to humans.

Listen to this Yuma Myotis Bat complaining at being mist-netted by a biologist, recorded on 6/11/08 at SFBBO’s CCFS:

After dinner, dark enough now to need a little artificial light, we headed back up to the upper pond. Lots of newts were now visible, some in amplexus. We found three California Red-legged Frogs hanging by the water’s edge. Larger than the treefrogs, we could see their dorsolateral folds. Later, another joined one in amplexus! These frogs were quiet, unlike the Sierran Treefrogs (formerly Pacific Treefrog) chorusing somewhere over the hill. We thought that we would be able to hear them at these two ponds, but other than the occasional land call and ribbit, there were no vocalizations.

Listen to red-leggeds calling softly under the loud chorus of treefrogs, recorded at Big Dipper Ranch on 2/20/09:

Listen to a treefrog call from land, with ribbit calls in the background, recorded at Picchetti Ranch OSP on 1/27/10:

Rana draytonii

Around 7:30 we went back to the lower pond to see what was happening there. There were even more newts, and one frog, found by its eyeshine in a protected area.

We started to head back at 8:00. As we passed the ranch house, we neared a tree on the left side of the road. There, the treefrogs chorused. They quieted in a slow wave as we approached–first, near the tree, then to the muddy area beyond. We were unable to spot any.

More cattle stood quietly in the dark as we neared the gate. They moved off as we spoke to them. Back at the lot around 8:30 after most had left, we compared boots.

Whose are the muddiest?

There have been interesting things–and mysteries–to look at each time I’ve been here. We look forward to finding more.

Related posts:
La Honda Creek OSP

More on amphibians:
Amphibian declines
Frogs: The Thin Green Line–what you can do to help

David Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood


One Response to “Night on Froggy Hill”

  1. Cindy Says:

    watching the light change over the ranch as the sun set and wandering around in the dark with a small group of people and many unseen animals was neat. 9 red-legged frog egg masses at Dipper ranch today. I heard the red-leggeds do their chuckle call during the day but couldn’t spot them. thanks for leading this first night hike at Driscoll.

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